Is it Dangerous to Tell People Your Goals?

Have you ever heard the dictum that many self-help personalities tout, “it is good to make a public commitment towards a goal”? Following this advice might actually be dangerous. In the TED talk appearing above about goalĀ achievement, Derek Sivers suggests that the good feeling you get from sharing your aspiration with others reduces the chance you will actually follow-through and achieve the goal.

Sivers’ presentation is backed up by peer-reviewed research. In his talk he highlights several controlled social experiments where the act of announcing a goal is adversely correlated with achieving the disclosed goal.

Any worthy goal generally requires certain steps in order to reach its achievement. When the goal is achieved, the achiever then benefits from a sense of accomplishment and the gratification of a job well done.

However, when you announce your goal to others, you can potentially inadvertently create (what social scientists call) “social reality”. Social reality can rob you of some of the delayed gratification (a powerful driver towards goal achievement), which in turn reduces your motivation to achieve your goal. There is academic research on visualization that suggests when we externally vocalize a goal we can trick our brain into believing it has already be accomplished. This resulting instant gratification can steal some of our drive to achieve the goal.

In his TED talk Siver reviews this science to back up his assertion that telling people your goals can be dangerous to their attainment. He cites work spanning from Lewin to Gollwitzer. If you do not have the time to watch the entire TED talk just remember: if you want to achieve your goal, think twice before telling someone. Instead of personal disclosure, use the energy and time you save to take the first few action item towards getting your goal done.